Last week I went with a friend and all our kiddos at our local Nature Center. It’s such a fun outing for the kids with a lot of space for them to run around and explore, a nice interruption to our usual Monday activities. I think my friend and I both came pretty exhausted and spent, we didn’t cover much ground in terms of sharing updates or our hearts. We just sat together and barked occasional directives at children. It was simple, it was good.
When I got the phone call back in June of 2015 about Phoebe and her diagnosis with Celiacs disease, I was literally just getting the kids ready to walk about the door for my dad’s 60th birthday celebration. I was supposed to pick up balloons and was hurrying to get the kids and myself dressed and ready in time for the 30 minute drive to nearby Black Mountain for the family gathering. The nurse told me the diagnosis, and I could tell in her voice there was the sorrow of having to give bad news. The words hit like a punch and then like a wave, washing back and forth over me again and again. I wanted to cry but it was like everything inside me just froze and I had to press hold on it all so that we could go to my dad’s celebration. There was a swirl of emotions, even excitement and joy because we finally had an answer that made sense. After that, I never could really seem to get to the sorrow I felt. Over the next few days, I went into “go mode,” immediately researching, placing holds on every book about celiacs at the library, visiting many different grocery stores in our area, cleaning out cabinets and getting rid of food, washing and replacing kitchen utensils. There wasn’t time for anything else yet. Tears came here and there, but never a good deep cry, never the feeling that I was able to “get” down to the buried emotion. There was mostly anxiety and a tightness in my chest that just wouldn’t go away.
That was six months ago.
A few days ago I had a really difficult day at home with the children. It was “one of those days” (all the mommas said amen), everything going wrong, with lots of yelling and failure, and it felt like a heavy hand just trying to push me down flat. We stopped and prayed many times throughout the day, the children and I, but the heaviness just wouldn’t lift. After the kids were in bed, Brandon and I were talking about it, I was crying, confessing, he was listening. Then suddenly it was like something in my soul cracked wide open and it finally spilled out. All the grieving. All the fear, the terror, the exhaustion, the sorrow. The sweet release. The letting go.
See, grief is not something we manage. It isn’t something we are in control of. We want to hurry our souls through our pain — but it cannot be wrangled and managed as easily as our calendars or our laundry piles.
Grief surprises. It lays dormant for all these passing days, then suddenly it breaks open over us and we are caught in the downpour. We process it as it comes. We are not in control here, we are carried on this journey. The way of the heart is a mystery. Grief cannot be packaged, hurried, tamed. It can be silenced — but it will have its way, eventually.
Partially I think what triggered this surfacing of my grief is that most of Phoebe’s symptoms have stayed exactly the same, even with the gluten-free diet. We are in conversation with her pediatrician and we will continue to pursue whatever options necessary to help her, but it has not been as easy or as simple as most of the books and doctors have implied. A simple change in diet has not really made much difference at all, at least not yet.
It’s not spring yet. We are still in a winter. Others might think us silly for mourning so deeply something that, compared to other’s suffering and pain, is relatively minor. I even think myself silly and frequently catch myself scolding my own soul. But I am learning: grief cannot be controlled, managed, bossed around. Silly or not, it must be acknowledged and allowed its time.
Our God knows. He knows the way He has made each of us to work, He knows how sensitive we are, how slow or quick we are to process, how weak or strong. He knows exactly what He’s doing, even when we do not. That can make me angry, or it can be the greatest comfort. When He seems to apply a pressure on me that is far greater than I can stand up under, when He carves a wide open space and leaves it empty — I want to be angry with Him, and sometimes I am. But I also believe Him. I believe that He knows best. I believe His ways are higher. I believe His plan is perfect. I believe He is good, that He is light and in Him is no darkness. I believe He loves me. He loves me.
He loves you.
He is a safe place for our grief. We can lay it all out before Him, piece by piece as it comes, and trust Him to carry us through it. To show us why it hits so hard, why it hurts so much. He is patient with us, suffering long with us. He abounds in mercy and steadfast love toward us. He goes with us, never retreating from our sorrow, never trying to hurry us on without bandaging each hemorrhaging part. If we are really confident of His love for us — if we truly believe that nothing we can do can ever diminish His love for us, or increase His love for us — then we are free to come before Him in truth, without hiding.
It wasn’t coincidence, it couldn’t have been, that on Sunday as I worshipped with my church family, I held my Phoebe close as she stood on the chair next to me, singing out the words to the song “Oceans.” The words took on new meaning, as I couldn’t help but think of the Scripture the Lord put on my heart for the year 2016. I couldn’t help but think of the Scripture I had read just that morning only moments earlier in the car on the drive to church, the one I scribbled in my journal:
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
What if the great and deep unknown He asks me to walk in isn’t some romantic call to overseas mission work, or women’s ministry, or a cute etsy shop business, or any other venture that I might find thrilling and appealing, but the hard, daily, and exhausting grind of learning how to feed my daughter, nurture her, and trust Him with her health even when it is terrifying and uncertain? What if the place “where feet may fail and fear surrounds me” isn’t the wild poverty of Africa, as I once assumed it would be, but is the place of sickness and disease in my own home? When I pray the prayer “take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,” what if He answers that by taking me through a deep grief? When her growth is declining rather than improving after being on a gluten-free diet as a family for six months?
“When something breaks down or does not go as planned, we are given a glimpse of our great need. Like a vast emptiness. We pray for solutions, crying out for immediate help, but God desires to give us more. To give something real. Something we can see with our eyes and feel on our skin.”
(Christie Purifoy, Roots + Sky)
God sometimes carves open a wide yawning space within us and leaves it, seemingly, empty. As if He is content to leave us aching, hollow, and groping. We cry out for answers, we are hungry for His voice, we wonder how this can be the abundant life He promised us.
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.
For I am Yours,
and You are mine.
If you are grieving a loss of any kind today, know that I’m praying for you. Spring is coming. The seasons always ebb and flow, like the ocean waves coming and going on the shoreline. A wide open space is hungry ground, open to receive seed.
Behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come.
Song of Soloman 2:11-12